Panetti v. Quarterman:
The Court handed down Panetti v. Quarterman this morning, a case on application of the death penalty to individuals with serious mental illness. In an opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, & Breyer, the Supreme Court overturned a Fifth Circuit ruling that a death row inmate can be executed if he understands that he is being put to death for murder but due to mental illness thinks the state's reason is a sham. The key passage:
Gross delusions stemming from a severe mental disorder may put an awareness of a link between a crime and its punishment in a context so far removed from reality that the punishment can serve no proper purpose. It is therefore error to derive from Ford, and the substantive standard for incompetency its opinions broadly identify, a strict test for competency that treats delusional beliefs as irrelevant once the prisoner is aware the State has identified the link between his crime and the punishment to be inflicted.
Justice Thomas dissented, joined by Roberts, Scalia, and Alito. Justice Thomas argues that the Court fudged its way around AEDPA to get to the merits of the case de novo, and that once there the Court's view of the constitutional requirements have no basis in the key precedent in the area, Ford v. Wainright.
Bob Smith:
So the key passage in a decision released in 2007 is simply to uphold the McNaughten Rule from the 1800s?

Wow. They really earn their big bucks don't they/
6.28.2007 12:40pm
Thomas's argument that the majority fudged the AEDPA (a) was foreclosed by Stewart v. Martinez-Villareal (he made many of the same arguments then in dissent), and (b) as the majority notes, is nonsense since it would REQUIRE habeas petitioners to bring perfunctory unripe claims that MUST be dismissed, or risk losing them altogether. Bananas, I say.

All this habeas stuff is not very juicy from a blogging/ConLaw/New York Times point of view, but the conservatives have clearly targeted it as the best way to chip away at the criminal procedure doctrine they dislike indirectly. This is a big reason why the court term is so often described as "boring" from a criminal perspective these days.

Why take political heat and criticism from the public and your colleagues for limiting Miranda directly when you can instead, to use Justice Rutledge's phrase, turn federal habeas courts into "impregnable citadels of technicality."
6.28.2007 12:41pm

One problem with your argument: Congress passed AEDPA, not the conservative Justices on the Supreme Court .
6.28.2007 12:45pm
The AEDPA clearly gives significant ammunition, and I agree that much of the complexity and difficult stems from no more than hewing to the AEDPA's requirements. But the AEDPA has been heavily interpreted and spun in a series of decisions. Cases like Musladin and some of the dicta in the recent Fry v. Pliler case have little to do with faithfully interpreting the AEDPA's text.
6.28.2007 1:01pm
Dave N (mail):
As someone who practices habeas corpus law, I see little to get excited over with this opinion.

I would note an interesting trend this term though. While the Supreme Court regularly pummels the Ninth Circuit on habeas cases (Musladin, Landigran, and Bockting, for example), this term the Court has reversed the Fifth Circuit three times (Panetti, Brewer, and Abdul-Kabir).

What I discern is a desire to reign in both the Ninth Circuit from liberal excess and the Fifth from conservative excess--but I could be wrong.
6.28.2007 2:26pm